Ahhhh, Las Vegas. Not my favourite town, if I’m honest. It’s a study in contrasts, a real snapshot of the US condition, and a joint that’s hard to resolve if you’re not there to stick copious amounts of booze in your maw and squander the kids’ inheritance on a ‘sure thing’.
Take the main downtown tourist precinct, for example. Impossibly clean, music piped from simply hundreds of hidden speakers and an almost forced air of frivolity and fun, as strip club touters force business cards on you from every corner and you pinball between hordes of wide-eyed college kids and meandering tourists just to get a bite to eat.
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Yet our minders express a desire that perhaps we shouldn’t really wander too many blocks away from the main drag…
As well as a gambling mecca for the gullible, Vegas is also a conference town; hence our visit to Sin City. We’re here for the Consumer Electronics Show, which is slowly morphing into a motoring show in its own right. Hey, it’s warmer than Detroit, at least. Having checked out the new CLA, it’s time to get the hell out of Nevada.
Thankfully, we’re bypassing the rows of slot machines in Vegas’ McCarran Airport departure hall (nope, not even kidding), and making tracks to Los Angeles in Merc’s new G63.
And when I say new, I mean new. Everything from active lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, sophisticated AEB front and rear, blind spot warning with pedestrian detection and a lot more has been added to the G-Class, thanks to significant revisions under its boxy body.
These include worked-over chassis rails, proper rack-and-pinion steering that replaces the ancient recirculating ball set up of the old car, a new multi-link front suspension system that replaces the former solid axle, and a brand new centre locking diff that’s backed up by a nine-speed automatic.
The body is completely new as well, despite its 1980s looks, and the interior has also been completely redone. It’s a dead ringer for the old car, but it’s thoroughly new in every respect.
As we assemble in the garage of our garish hotel, probably the single most interesting thing about the $270,000 G63 is just how faithfully Mercedes-Benz has replicated the shape of the previous rig. It’s within millimetres of the old car’s dimensions in every direction, and there’s not an element that has been missed in the update.
Take the indicators on the front guards, for example. They hark back to the first 1980s car, and are designed to be completely submersible. On the new car, they’re also designed to collapse into the body of the car should a pedestrian be unlucky enough to hit one.
Even the rolled boot and door hinges on the old car have been replicated, but they’ve been redesigned for greater strength and better fit. (Oh, and don’t get excited by the bull bars fitted to our pressers – it’s a US market thing that Australia doesn’t get.)
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It’s a 500km-plus jaunt to downtown LA today, so we are soon on Las Vegas Boulevard, dodging Hyundai sedans and minibuses with photographer Mike hanging out the window. Nothing says ‘US road trip’ like a fake Eiffel Tower, right?
We soon turn off the main drag and head out through the Mojave Desert, stopping for a quick… well, not much at a place called Roy’s Diner. The proprietor does a good line in Twinkies, but the NRA ball cap and tangible MAGA vibe saw us hightail out of there for the much more genteel – some might say ‘hippy’ – surrounds of Joshua Tree. A leisurely lunch (black and tofu burger, if you must know), and Mike directs us up an access road to get the G63 a little dirty.
The divide between genuine off-road ability and real-world on-road talent used to be so much clearer… but now, with the arrival of properly quick SUVs like BMW’S X6 M, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Range Rover Sport SVR, that divide is muddier.
I’d suggest that the big Merc tops the class when it comes to taming the dirt though. Its breadth and depth of ability in loose, steep terrain is nothing short of otherworldly; never have I experienced a stock 4x4 breeze over properly nasty terrain with such quiet disdain.
On road-going 21-inch rims and at road-going pressures, the G63 managed to confound our best ham-fisted attempts to get bogged in shin-deep sand, while its ability to ratchet up rocky terrain is also properly good.
It can then pack those abilities away and reveal a turn of pace that reminds me of a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The G63’s side-exit exhausts adds brute menace and ominous thunder to an already incredible 4.0-litre V8 soundtrack, while its sheer turn of eye-watering pace - in something that physically can’t go faster than 220km/h thanks to air resistance - is both hard to comprehend and easy to love.
Its revised suspension set-up has turned the Geländewagen’s road-going behaviour from ridiculously poor to positively sublime as well, with genuinely meaningful steering feedback and astonishing body control for a 2.5-tonne brick, not to mention its riotously amusing turn of fearsome speed.
The last schlep into LA proper is a long one, which allows me to let the G63 do some of the work. Its interior treatment brings in the best from across the group, including the twin dash screens and comfortable front seats, but second-row passengers still want for a bit of leg room despite the G’s size.
Still, as we roll into LAX like low D-list celebs, it’s easy to regard the G63 as a success for Mercedes. It might sell 20,000 all year all over the world, and it really didn’t need to bother building a new one, but it did, and it did it properly. The result is an iconic 4x4 that knows how to put on a show. Maybe Vegas wasn’t such a bad place to start the trip after all.